In the last year of her undergrad, Queen’s rugby player Jillian Lynott, ArtSci ’22, has decided to make a lasting impact on the surrounding Kingston community—organizing the first Strong Girls United (SGU) program run by a Canadian university.
A non-profit originally founded in the United States, SGU is an organization that seeks to empower and inspire young females to be the best—and strongest—versions of themselves through sport, mindfulness, and leadership programming.
In an interview with The Journal, Lynott spoke about how she was inspired by the SGU mission statement and recognized the potential impact a program of its kind would have at Queen’s and the surrounding community.
“Queen’s athletes have a role to play in this community and I think it’s important to use our voice and our position to positively empower the girls [so that we can] build together strongly.”
The program habitually runs for a 6-8 week period and consists of 16 girls in a given community being matched with local female varsity athletes for mentorship. In weekly one-hour sessions, mentors run exercises that teach girls various positive tools that can transcend areas of their life beyond just the field or court.
When asked why she believes Queen’s was the first Canadian university to implement this program, Lynott explained that the current environment here is optimal to facilitate such initiatives.
“Queen’s athletes are innately wanting to give back to their community supporters. We also have all the infrastructure [from previous initiatives] already in place which made this a seamless process,” she said.
Lynott’s insight comes from her former position as a member of Queen’s Varsity Leadership Council.
Despite the existing infrastructure, Lynott and the rest of the rugby team are still facing some challenges transforming the program’s curriculum to fit a Canadian context.
“We are still trying to reach our fundraising goal, which is $2,000 to make the program cost-free, because we had trouble initially figuring how to do that since the U.S. uses different [fundraising] systems.”
All this said, Lynott still believes the community interest in the program will pick up once awareness of it is spread further.
“Since this program is so new to Canada, the next step is to get a team together to share information [with community members and varsity athletes] so that when they hear Strong Girls United they understand what that represents.”
Amidst these obstacles, Lynott is dedicated to seeing the initiative through because she recognizes the immediate need for this work in the current Kingston community.
“As it is, girls are not as involved [as boys] with sports, and after COVID hit there was more of a drop-off of participation by girls, so I saw the importance of this program,” she explained.
“Strong Girls United even allows lower socioeconomic status groups here in Kingston to be involved as the program is completely cost-free.”
Lynott has a long-term goal for the program: she wants it to continue past her time here at Queen’s.
“Keeping girls in sports is so important […] it teaches so many valuable life lessons,” she remarked.
“Ultimately, I just want this program to give a voice and the ability to lead, coach, and empower young girls to become strong women.”
Lynott recognizes how much sports in her own life have taught her. Through this program, she hopes to inspire the next generation of female athletes to get as much out of their sport as she did.
“In the end, it’s all about exposing girls to opportunities that they might not have even known were possible, [as the overall motto here] is ‘If she can see it, she can be it.’’’
Queen’s SGU program will launch in the winter term, with specific dates to be announced in the near future.
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